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‘Green thumbs are grown, not born’

Katy Meyer-McEwen and her daughter Ava of Harvard have learned about gardening together over the past year.
Katy Meyer-McEwen and her daughter Ava of Harvard have learned about gardening together over the past year.Spencer McEwen

Judy Korik Weinstock and her 11-year-old daughter, Adi, like to plant and water seedlings. Adi’s 10-year-old sister, Charlie, enjoys digging in the dirt. And Adi’s father, Jed, is good at building structures and fixing things.

All of which makes backyard gardening the perfect hobby for this family. Shortly after they moved to Carlisle from Boston two years ago and discovered that their home’s previous owner had left behind some decrepit garden boxes, they set to work. By the end of last summer, they had a crop of corn, tomatoes, peas, and carrots so prodigious they gave up their CSA share, according to Judy.

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But even families without quite as diverse a skill set are upping their gardening game this year. And some are calling in professionals to get them started. After winging it for the past few years — “I’d go to the local nursery, grab some plants, put them in the ground and see how they do” — Katy Meyer-McEwen sought help from Acton-based garden coach Jessica Robison.

“I really didn’t know anything about soils, light, when to move plants from indoors to greenhouse, when to transplant. I had so much to learn,” said Meyer-McEwen, of Harvard. After taking a six-week virtual class with Robison, whom she initially found through Instagram, Meyer-McEwen knows all of this and more.

“Too many people tell me they don’t have a green thumb. I’m a big proponent of the idea that green thumbs are grown, not born,” said Robison, who started her consulting business, Acton Food Forest & Garden Design, two years ago. “Killing plants is part of learning to garden. It’s more material for your compost.”

Adi Weinstock examines her backyard garden beds in Carlisle.
Adi Weinstock examines her backyard garden beds in Carlisle.Nancy Shohet West For The Boston Globe

She helps clients both in person and virtually with everything from harvesting vegetables and raising flowers to cultivating backyard orchards. “I love teaching people to grow food,” she said. “Planting seeds is something people have done for thousands of years, but we’ve become disconnected from our food source. And now, the look in people’s eyes when they see what they’ve been doing wrong ... I showed a client the very basic sequence of patting down soil, watering it, and then placing seeds on the soil. She said, ‘You water the soil before you put in the seeds? That means I’ve been washing my seeds away all these years!’”

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“I went from having plants scattered throughout the house to a really awesome tiered shelving system that Jessica suggested,” Meyer-McEwen recounted. “Now I’m growing arugula, kale, beets, and radishes as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, and tomatillos.”

Once the outdoor gardening season begins, Meyer-McEwen, who is often assisted in the greenhouse by her 8-year-old daughter Ava, looks forward to introducing some edible flowers to the mix as well.

Business has boomed this year, Robison said. Mostly it’s because clients like Meyer-McEwen are working from home and have more time to devote to gardening. But she also recognizes the undeniable appeal that this primally rewarding, hands-on endeavor holds during particularly challenging times.

That’s certainly been true for Judy Weinstock, who is a physician specializing in hospice and palliative care. “My work centers on death and dying,” she said. “Gardening is about watching things grow. It’s the yin to the yang of my job. Our gardening project reminds us, especially during this difficult year, of all that we are still able to cultivate.”

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Nancy Shohet West can be reached nancyswest@gmail.com.